In the Event of an Emergency – AAA

Tony Security Leave a Comment

Why principle based training beats tactics

I’m sure every one of you reading this who work in the security sector have at some point in your career undertaken some form of training. It may have been a good or a bad experience for you but that isn’t the purpose of this article. In this article I want to talk about principle based training and why I believe in it. I also want to take you through my AAA principle based system. Hopefully you find it useful and perhaps it’s something you can incorporate into your own training. If not that’s OK too. It’s not for everyone but it works for me.

Principles over tactics

I’m a big believer in principles over tactics. I’ve always learned better that way and I think in the real world it makes more sense. Having specific tactics and techniques is still important but the process of spelling out exact responses to exact situations to me doesn’t make sense. This is particularly prevalent in entry level courses (the entry level security programmes are an obvious example). The use of ‘if this happens then do that’ examples are rife in training. It always reminds me of school where you learned defined responses to defined problems. 2×2 will always equals 4 in technique based training, but what happens when you need to get to 6. Then you need to think outside of the box. The problem I have with technique level training is that it doesn’t take variance (Murphy’s law) into account. I’ll give you some real world examples. For example in the arrest of a shoplifter. A defined step by step model is shown to deal with a shoplifter under a ideal set of circumstances:What if the shoplifter is bigger? What if there is more than one? What if they are a child? What if they run? What if they have a weapon? What if they don’t speak English? Will your step by step model still work? Another example might be dealing with a trespasser on site. A step by step model can’t account for the layout of the site, the number of trespassers, their location in the site, if they are armed or if they have already stolen something. All of these will change the response to the situation and its hard to account for them all in a step by step training process.

Why principles?

Principle based training teaches people to think in terms of overarching principles which can be applied to many situations. The principles encourage critical thinking and situational awareness. Rory Miller in his book ‘Meditations on Violence’ writes a great breakdown on why strategy and principles trump tactics and techniques. Principles allow the security operative to exercise judgement, experience and apply solutions to a variety of problems. They don’t prescribe a specific response. As long as the decisions fall within the broad criteria on which the principles are based then it’s an option.For principle based training to work the principles must meet some broad criteria:

  1. They must apply to every situation (or at least the vast majority)
  2. They must be simple to remember and apply.
  3. They must be open enough to allow for the application of judgement and discretion. 

My principle based system is the AAA model. AAA stands for Assess, Alert and Action. These are 3 simple and subjective steps which apply to the vast majority of situations that a security operative may encounter. It doesn’t discount specific tactics or techniques. It considers these in the ‘Action’ phase but it doesn’t default to a specific technique or tactic until the situation has been assessed on principle.


The first principle is ‘Assess’. Before acting or considering a response to the situation. This involves developing situational awareness, detachment and a certain amount of stress resilience. Starting to use principle based training scenarios can support with this. This means developing your principles and then putting your team into scenarios to test them. Once this happens then beginning to introduce small amounts of stress to the scenarios and asking the trainees to assess them. It is surprising how quickly people people develop really good assessment skills using these methods. This is often referred to as dynamic risk assessment and there are lots of models out there to support with this. The dynamic risk assessment model I use is SAOR (this is a separate article all by itself) which helps to support quick assessment of situations.


The next step is to quickly ascertain who needs to immediately know about the situation or what you are about to do? It’s also about deciding on the best method of alerting these people. Again, the principle based system leaves this open to experience, judgement and discretion. The only parameters I put on this principle are that the security operative should consider alerting people on two levels – local and general. Local being people in the vicinity of the incident or endangered by it and general being those external parties who need to know. Obviously local alerts take priority as those are the people directly involved or affected and the security operative needs to become decisive in making these calls when required. Principle based practice and training help to take the nerves out of this process. I’ve set out a few examples below

Type of Incident Local Local General General
  Who How Who How
Fire Building occupants   Security team Fire call point     Two way radio Fire brigade Phone
Finding a weapon during search Security team   Supervisor Voice   Two-way radio Gardaí Phone
Trespasser on a site Controller Two-way radio Gardai   Management Phone   Phone


The final principle is to take ‘Action’. This is where tactics and techniques can support the decision but the security operative should not be bound by them. The only parameters I place in this area are:

  • Does the action add to the safety of the incident?
  • Are the actions effective in bringing control to the situation?
  • Does the situation fit within legal, regulatory or policy parameters?

All three parameters are important but they also leave a wide variety of solutions from which a security operative can choose. We can use this part of our training to practice core techniques but also to add variance to the situations that we use in our training.


I said in the introduction that I believed that entry level training to the security industry is rife with technique based training (not all of it correct either). I also know that with time constraints and content restrictions on the entry level courses its very difficult to achieve a whole lot more than that. Its difficult to achieve most because most trainers wont have the time with learners to introduce stress scenarios. This sort of training is better served in workplaces where the more stressful training can take place in a realistic environment. But trainers at all levels can at least start to introduce the principles into their training. Maybe not my principles but some principles, and begin letting people in the security industry know that critical thinking and experiential judgement are attributes that the industry needs and not just an ability to blindly follow a checklist response.

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